Aptly, my final article in this travel series took me home again. I grew up in Bristol—on the Virginia side, which is very important to note for folks familiar with Tri-Cities lore. As a youngster, I loved to lip sync to Madonna like most 80s girls, but I had no idea about the rich tradition of music right around the corner.
Fast forward (ahem. . . a good number of years), and it would be hard for a girl to escape the history that’s now featured so prominently in downtown Bristol. As I traveled with my two elementary-aged daughters from Berea, KY, through the Cumberland Gap, I thought of what a different impression they have of my hometown. Downtown State Street is now a destination—there are restaurants, shops, and, and an interactive museum all about country music.
The Birthplace of Country Music anchors downtown with a grand entrance. Having once been the Goodpasture Motors building, the façade is a treat to the eyes for those like myself fascinated with downtown revitalization and reuse projects.
The museum opened three years ago with a mission to celebrate and promote Bristol’s musical heritage. As I noted in a previous article, nearby Hiltons, VA, is the home of the Carter Family, and they traveled to Bristol in 1927 to record what become the first commercialized recordings of country music. The museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, preserves the story of these recordings and shares how they shape music as we know it today.
The hands-on exhibits allow children—and museum goers of all ages—to experiment with sound and get a glimpse into how technology evolves. There are also artifacts and educational programs that make the story come to life. I noticed as well that they museum hosts yearly summer camps to give children a full week of music training and appreciation. I think this may be something these two girls would enjoy in the future.
What I love most about the museum is that it’s a story of transformation. The same downtown that was once nearly abandoned now hosts an annual music event that draws visitors and musicians from around the country. The Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion began as a small, volunteer-led event in 2001. Now it’s a three-day, multi-venue destination boasting headliners like Dwight Yoakum. If you’re looking for concert-going, along with museum-going, a visit to Bristol in September could be for you. Click here to see the schedule and start planning your own visit to the birthplace of country music.